Games of the Year 2012 (10-6)
10. SSX – SSX was one of the first games I bought for my PS2 and it blew my mind. As Tricky, then 3 came and went, the series entered into the realm of high-replayability for me. Every run is a fun, new challenge, and after skipping everything since SSX 3, I was ready for a return. With this refresh, SSX has gone big. With some of the most exciting runs in the entire series and a new layer of realism the game didn’t know it was missing, SSX (2012) is now my favorite entry in the series. Taming of the boarders is a shame, to an extent, but the unreal gameplay and added deadly descents are a solid trade.
Everything about the game feels irrelevant once you’re on the verge of a drop. The music funnels in, your competitors line up, and you kick yourself out of a high altitude chopper down a 70-degree incline. From then on, the run is yours. The enjoyment I get isn’t from winning or registering new high scores. It’s more unrefined. It’s kinetic. It’s the movement down each run, the line, the music complementing my airtime and landings. It’s one rail to the next, into a double backflip, the board just clinging to one foot before it swings out beneath me… then back onto my feet just before landing. Then “I Can’t Stop” by Flux Pavilion drops & I keep tearing down the mountain.
9. Halo 4 – Halo 4 is not my favorite Halo. It is, however, the best Halo since 3. ODST, Wars, & Reach all have their place, but they don’t have Master Chief. It’s not even that Master Chief is in the game, I’ve spent most of my time as my own Spartan; Halo 4 just plays better than the last few Halo games. It’s certainly the most polished multiplayer since Xbox Live first came into the equation in 2004. Halo games are hard to measure against one another without taking into account each component: Campaign, Co-op, MP, Spartan Ops, Custom Games, Forge, and the now absent, Firefight.
My favorite campaign is still Halo (Halo 3 for co-op), but Halo 4 isn’t without its merits. As an epilogue to the last trilogy Halo 4 is ambitious. As its own fresh, trilogy, I can’t help but wonder where they’re headed (in some cases, what they were thinking). It relies too much on outside media (the Forerunner Trilogy by Greg Baer) and doesn’t treat the majority of its players to much new content after the first few hours. Still, it’s good to have the Chief back. Halo 4 may just be another safe, good Halo game – games which define my FPS tastes – but it’s still a better, more complete game than most.
8. Botanicula – I’ve never really completed this sort of game before: a point-and-click adventure. I’m told they’re having a bit of a resurgence. Regardless of where they are in this genre’s life, I was intrigued by the art (I’d dabbled in Machinarium) and the fresh idea of not murdering someone to proceed. I just needed to point and to click. Your party (a twig, a helicopter leaf, two mushrooms, and an acorn) are set on maintaining all life, threatened by vampiric spiders. How charming is that?
Slather on a playful soundtrack, a childish sense of wonderment, and clever puzzles, and I can’t think of a game that embodies joy better. Various areas of the tree (the game takes place almost entirely on a tree) tell a great deal about the situation these characters are in. They speak in bips and mumbles, so everything is conveyed by music, color, light, and subtle animation. A full range of emotion plays out and by the time your party is in the most dire, hopeless of states, each uncertain click carries the fear of loss of everything wonderful the game has been before.
7. Mark of the Ninja – Since I played Super Meat Boy, I’ve longed for a yin to its yang; a platformer with as precise controls, but with a little more story and a slower pace. Oh, and as good an experience. Not a small feat, but Klei delivered such an game in MotN. From its simple beginnings of a ninja marked with the rite of savior, Klei explores high-level design and darkness. Each encounter with enemies is also an encounter with their surroundings. Vases, dumpsters, light posts, ledges and vents are as much a part of your arsenal as kunai or your sword. These encounters boil down to a series of precise – often timed – button presses that are so simplistic in nature, I can’t think of a more appropriate word to describe them than “ninja.”
As the game introduces challenges, your best defense is cleverness. Distraction, assault, and deception are all available given your patience. What I admire about Mark of the Ninja is its guise of a well-oiled machine, allowing you to slip into the role of one of so many fine-toothed gears running nonstop, tucked away. Whereas Dishonored’s scope and perspective made me claustrophobic, MotN freed me from errors and offered a zen-like quality to progression. Not right & wrong; just “ninja.”
6. Far Cry 3 – Jason Brody. This dude shares my name, and he is a pud. Far Cry 3 would’ve been better as Bethesda-esque FPS; it cribs enough from that source as it is. A named character with a story to tie its supporting cast together is not the way to build this type of game apparently. Not to my taste anyway. Far Cry 3 is not about Jason Brody for me. The story steers into great gameplay, but the cast often smug up the experience. I don’t care about their problems, but I probably could. I want to be embroiled in the troubles of a starlet at Hollywood’s door, a habitual drug user known for fucking up, a vegan naturist.
Instead I’m a burnout finding myself in the jungle with hollow friends. Far Cry 3 is not about these things. It’s about hunting wildcats and sharks with a scoped .45 revolver. Or hunting humans with a bow and arrows. It’s about the trashy pop/EDM music featured throughout the game; “Paper Planes” & Skrillex & Damien Marley & Die Antwoord. Because that’s the open world FPS RPG we need; one that embodies a one-percenter so far up his own 21(.1)st-century-ass he needs every rocket from his shark skin ammo pouch to blow himself out. Then he’d clean the bits off his YOLO snapback, base-jump off a cliff into the home of very angry men who want to kill him for existing, gun-blazing.